The Anglo-American Conservative Tradition and Its Surprising Jewish Roots

In today’s political discourse, argue Ofir Haivry and Yoram Hazony, there is a tendency to conflate two distinct sets of ideas: a conservative tradition embraced perhaps most importantly by Edmund Burke and Alexander Hamilton and a liberal tradition, founded by John Locke and embraced by Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson. These competing traditions share key points in common: respect for individual liberty, belief in republican government, and hostility toward dictatorship. But they differ in their attitudes toward universalism, religion, and progress. Haivry and Hazony trace the conservative tradition from the 15th-century English political philosopher John Fortescue to the 19th century, and note the influence of Judaism on some of its most important exponents:

According to Fortescue, . . . the powers of the English king are limited by the traditional laws of the English nation, in the same way—as Fortescue emphasizes—that the powers of the Jewish king in the Mosaic constitution in Deuteronomy are limited by the traditional laws of the Israelite nation. . . . [But] the decisive chapter in the formation of modern Anglo-American conservatism . . . is dominated by the figure of John Selden (1584–1654), probably the greatest theorist of Anglo-American conservatism. . . .

Selden saw himself as an heir to Fortescue. . . . His own much more extensive theoretical defense of English national traditions appeared in the form of short historical treatises on English law, as well as in a series of massive works examining political theory and law in conversation with classical rabbinic Judaism. In these works, Selden sought to defend conservative traditions, including the English one, not only against [advocates of absolute monarchy], but also against the claims of a universalist rationalism, according to which men could simply consult their own reason, which was the same for everyone, to determine the best constitution for mankind. . . .

Selden recognizes that, in making . . . selections from the traditions of the past, we tacitly rely upon a higher criterion for selection, a natural law established by God, which prescribes “what is truly best” for mankind in the most elementary terms. In his Natural and National Law, Selden explains that this natural law has been discovered over long generations since the biblical times and has come down to us in various versions. Of these, the most reliable is that of the Talmud, which describes the seven laws of the children of Noah prohibiting murder, theft, sexual perversity, cruelty to beasts, idolatry and defaming God, and requiring courts of law to enforce justice. . . .

Nonetheless, Selden emphasizes that no nation can govern itself by directly appealing to such fundamental law. . . It is thus wise to respect the different laws found among nations, both those that appear right to us and those that appear mistaken, for different perspectives may each have something to contribute to our pursuit of the truth.

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Read more at American Affairs

More about: Conservatism, History & Ideas, John Locke, John Selden, Judaism, Political philosophy

 

The Arab Press Blames Iran Rather Than Israel for Gaza’s Woes

Following the fighting between Israel and Islamic Jihad over the weekend, many journalists and commentators in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia didn’t rush to condemn the Jewish state. Instead, as the translators at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) note, they criticized the terrorist group for “operating in service of Iranian interests and thus inflicting suffering on the Gaza Strip’s residents.” One Saudi intellectual, Turki al-Hamad, wrote the following on Twitter:

It is apparent that, if at one time any confrontation between Israel and the Palestinian organizations would attract world and Arab attention and provoke a wave of anger [against Israel], today it does not shock most Arabs and most of the world’s [countries]. Furthermore, even a sense of human solidarity [with the Palestinians] has become rare and embarrassing, raising the question, “Why [is this happening] and who is to blame?”

I believe that the main reason is the lack of confidence in all the Palestinian leaders. . . . From the Arabs’ and the world’s perspective, it is already clear that these leaders are manipulating the [Palestinian] cause out of self-interest and diplomatic, economic, or even personal motives, and that the Palestinian issue is completely unconnected to this. The Palestinian cause has become a bargaining chip in the hands of these and other organizations and states headed by the [Iranian] ayatollah regime.

A, article in a major Arabic-language newspaper took a similar approach:

In a lengthy front-page report on August 7, the London-based UAE daily Al-Arab criticized Islamic Jihad, writing that “Gaza again became an arena for the settling of accounts between Iran and Israel, while the Palestinian citizens are the ones paying the price.” It added that Iran does not want to confront Israel directly for its bombings in Syria and its attacks on Iranian scientists and nuclear facilities.

“The war in Gaza is not the first, nor will it be the last. But it proves . . . that Iran is exploiting Gaza as it exploits Lebanon, in order to strengthen its hand in negotiations with the West. We all know that Iran hasn’t fired a single bullet at Israel, and it also will not do this to defend Gaza or Lebanon.”

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Read more at MEMRI

More about: Gaza Strip, Iran, Islamic Jihad, Israel-Arab relations, Persian Gulf